Home » Failing at Normal: An ADHD Success Story by Jessica McCabe at TEDxBratislava (Transcript)

Failing at Normal: An ADHD Success Story by Jessica McCabe at TEDxBratislava (Transcript)

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Jessica McCabe at TEDxBratislava

Here is the full transcript of actress Jessica McCabe’s TEDx Talk: Failing at Normal: An ADHD Success Story at TEDxBratislava conference.

Listen to the MP3 audio: Failing at Normal_ An ADHD Success Story by Jessica McCabe at TEDxBratislava


Hello, brains! I say that to you because, if you think about it, it wasn’t really you that decided to come here today. It was your brain.

And whether you decided to walk, or drive, take a taxi, or ride a bike, that decision was made by your brain. Behavior, all behavior, is affected by the brain. This is a story about my brain.

So, I was a smart kid. By 18 months, I was speaking in full sentences. By third grade, I was scoring post-high school on standardized tests I had, as all my teachers agreed, so much potential I was also struggling. I didn’t have many, any, friends outside of books. I was easily overwhelmed.

I spaced out in class. I lost things constantly. And trying to get my brain to focus on anything. I wasn’t excited about was like trying to nail jello to the wall. But I was smart, so nobody was worried.

It wasn’t until middle school, when I was responsible for getting myself to classes on time and remembering to bring my own homework, that being smart wasn’t enough anymore, and my grades started to suffer.

My mom took me to the doctor and, after a comprehensive evaluation, I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. If you’re not familiar with ADHD, it has three primary characteristics: inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

Some people with ADHD have more of the inattentive presentation. Those are the daydreamers, the space cadets. Some have more of the hyperactive-impulsive presentation. Those are the kids that usually get diagnosed early.

But the most common presentation is a combination of both. My doctor and my parents decided that, given my shiny, new diagnosis, maybe stimulant medication would succeed where spankings and lectures had failed. So I tried it, and it worked.

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The first time I took my medication, it was like putting on glasses and realizing I could see without squinting. I could focus. And without changing anything, my GPA went up a full point. Honestly, it was kind of miraculous.

By 14, I had friends that liked me. By 15, I had published my first poem. I got a boyfriend.

By 17, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. My local college had a program that would guarantee admission to USC. They had a really great journalism program. So, I signed up at my local college and I started taking classes.

I moved in with my boyfriend. Things were going great, until they weren’t. I started having trouble making it to class on time. I aced a statistics course, but I forgot to sign up in time, so I never got the credit. I took classes so I could help my boyfriend with his career, but I completely lost sight of mine.

I never made it to USC. By 21, I dropped out of college and moved back home. Over the next ten years, I started and quit, or was fired from, 15 jobs. I ruined my credit. I got married, and was divorced within a year.

At this point, I was 32, and I had no idea what I was doing with my life, besides reading self-help books that didn’t seem to be helping.

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